By Richard Mather…
This is an uncomfortable time to be a political moderate or Jewish, or indeed both. The ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn and the militant rise of the anti-Zionist hard Left in Britain is a reminder that extremism of all kinds is a risk to the well-being, happiness and security of the UK’s Jewish communities but also ordinary people who are tired of the political extremes prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. Willing or not, we are all participants in a culture war in which moderates are under attack from far Left activists, neo-Nazi types and far Right Islamists. This triangulation of hatred is particularly hard for most Jews who repeatedly face a culture war on three fronts.
Part of the problem is the social media. Facebook and Twitter have emboldened people to be downright nasty to those who don’t agree with them. Just look at the misogynist abuse directed at Labour contender Liz Kendall or the antisemitic diatribes directed at John Mann MP who has been called “filth” and a “Zionist stooge” by Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. The mainstream media is little better. Look at what happened when The Jewish Chronicle ran a perfectly reasonable editorial that asked Corbyn to respond to allegations surrounding his antisemitic affiliations. Cue Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s ridiculous response in The Independent in which she not only sidestepped the issue and got her facts wrong, she also dreamed up a Judeo-Zionist conspiracy that is plotting to “crush all alternatives to neoliberal economics and Western hegemony.”
Corbyn himself seems to be perched on a cloud high above the rough and tumble of Britain’s culture war. Indeed, he is curiously disengaged from the social media warfare, leaving his thousands of followers to do battle with his opponents and critics. Corbyn’s disinterest in the dirty political discourses that are swirling around him reminds me of the Scottish referendum debate in which many ordinary Scots turned into aggressive footsoldiers, quashing competing narratives with vicious put-downs, internet trolling and intimidation, with the tacit approval of SNP bosses Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond. The same kind of thing is happening now.
In other words, while Corbyn himself holds some pretty unsavoury views about the IRA and the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it is his slavish and deeply unpleasant supporters that moderates should be most worried about. The Corbynistas, who comprise the militant Left, a few quasi-Marxist intellectuals and a lot of young (and naive) idealists who simply want to belong to an exciting political movement, are engaged in the kind of factionalism that is typical of extremists. Unable to deal with realpolitik, the Corbynistas have created a political simulacrum of the world in which they peer out on the rest of us and hate us for our “false consciousness.” That makes it easier for them to condemn moderates as “Tory scum,” “neo-cons” and “Zionists.” These extremists really do hate us. They are conditioned by their own insular ideology to hate Blairites, Conservatives and Jewish Zionists. Unfortunately, you cannot reason an extremist out of something they weren’t reasoned into.
My main concern, however, is the probability that Corbyn and his acolytes have little interest in the discipline of government but are content with being a huge protest group united only by single issue politics such as Palestinianism, austerity, anti-capitalism and fracking. This movement is already led by a coalition of groups that includes the Socialist Workers Party, the Greens, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War and Unite. This coalition has been gathering pace for years, particularly since 2003 when Blair wanted to invade Iraq. And now, with a Conservative government in Downing Street, we can expect a huge upswing in the number of industrial disruptions by strikers, anti-austerity rallies in London and anti-Zionist marches through Manchester. To all intents and purposes, we could be facing years of direct action and revolutionary activism.
The hard Left is in the ascendancy in all parts of the country. Look at what happened in Scotland. The SNP has transformed Scotland into a nationalist socialist machine that holds the UK Conservative government to ransom. Interestingly, the hard Left in England doesn’t need to be in government in order to be in power. Even without Corbyn’s leadership, the extreme Left has the power to perpetuate its culture war by stopping the Tube or the trains, or by wrecking the country’s energy policy by resisting fracking, or by demanding the arrest and trial of people they don’t like such as Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu, or by organising mass protests against Jewish businesses and Israelis, or by protesting against the military removal of Islamic State. All Corbyn has done is act as a lightning rod. Whether Corbyn wins the Labour leadership or not, the extreme Left is galvanised and it has the numbers to hold us all to ransom.
In other words, Britain is facing an aggressive, populist and illiberal insurgency. Welcome to the new culture war.